Only five scientists in history have won a Nobel Prize twice, and among those five is K. Barry Sharpless, a Friends’ Central School alumnus from the Class of 1959. This incredible honor places Sharpless in the company of Marie Curia.
On Wednesday, October 5, the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to K. Barry Sharpless, Carolyn Bertozzi, from Stanford University, and Morten Meldal, from the University of Copenhagen. The three scientists have been credited with developing a method for “clicking” molecules together which has been described as working like “molecular Lego”.
A longtime member of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., Sharpless himself coined the term “click chemistry” to “describe fast, high-yield, clean reactions, meaning they don’t produce a lot of undesirable side reactions”. products,” explained Dr Phillip Broadwith, in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemistry World magazine. “One of the first ‘click reactions’, the copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition, was discovered independently by Sharpless and Meldal and gave rise to its own branch of synthetic chemistry,” he added. . Catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition is now a widely used method for making drugs and mapping DNA.
In an article in the Guardian, Professor Olof Ramström, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, described the prize as “a fantastic prize for a fantastic discovery”.
“They’ve been working on methods to try to connect molecules, to connect building blocks so that they fit together very simply and directly, basically the same way you build Lego,” he said. “You can have the Lego pieces and you can put them together and build very advanced houses, tools or vehicles, even spaceships. It’s the same with this chemistry, albeit at a very, very molecular level.
K. Barry Sharpless won his first Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001 for his work on catalyzed oxidation reactions, another type of chemical reaction used to produce drugs.
Sharpless’s father, a Quaker by law, sent him to Friends’ Central School in seventh grade. A shy student and passionate about his work, Sharpless was known to invent excuses for social occasions in order to spend time in the lab. It was clear from the citation in his yearbook – where he is described as an “ace of science” – that his passion for science started early. However, science was not his only interest. He was also enthusiastic about learning German at Friends’ Central. Through lessons with Ruth Fiesel, Sharpless quickly developed a skill that was reinforced by her contact with exchange students at the Hans Hubert Gymnasium in Gräefelfing near Munich.
“The Sharpless family welcomed German exchange student Hubert Hitziger,” shared Friends’ Central alumnus Dave Branning ’59. “That year, Friends’ Central started a small German course where Barry pursued his ability to understand and speak German, a big help in his field of study. The Sharpless family helped Hubert learn to cycle to the Vesper Boat Club, and Hubert rowed daily and became the Philadelphia Schoolboy Singles Rowing Champion that year. Barry formed lasting friendships with exchange students Hubert Hitziger and Peter Dietrich.
During his freshman year at Friends’ Central, Sharpless grew 12 inches and was drafted into the football team when the coach spotted him beating some of the top arm wrestlers.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Tim Patterson ’59, who played on the undefeated football team with Sharpless, described him as “just a regular guy. He didn’t push anything in front of you saying he was smarter than all of us.
Another passion for Sharpless during his school days was fishing. He spent summers exploring the banks of the Manasquan River, later learning to sail with his uncle and catching fish. He considered marine biology before choosing chemistry as a career goal.
After graduating from Friends’ Central in 1959, Sharpless attended Dartmouth College as an undergraduate and later earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Stanford University. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, and in 1990 joined the faculty of the Scripps Research Institute, where he is WM Keck Professor of Chemistry.
In addition to two Nobel Prizes, Sharpless was widely recognized for his scientific achievements over many decades, being elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985 and receiving, among myriad honors, the King Faisal International Prize for Science. and the 2019 Priestley Medal, the American Chemical Society’s highest honor.
Friends’ Central recognized K. Barry Sharpless as their 1998 Distinguished Alumnus for his pioneering work in science.
“When the Class of 1959 had their 50th reunion in 2009,” Dave Branning said, “Both Barry and his wife came. He had already won his first Nobel Prize in 2001. His wife told me during our Sunday brunch in Reunion: “If Barry lives long enough, he’ll win another Nobel Prize. I’ve never forgotten that comment and she was absolutely right.”